Becoming a Physical Trainer: Job Description & Career Info

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A physical trainer's median annual salary is around $34,980, but is it worth the training requirements? Get the truth about job descriptions and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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A Physical Trainer Career: Pros and Cons

Physical trainers, usually referred to as personal or fitness trainers, develop exercise programs designed to help individuals and groups reach their fitness goals. If you enjoy physical activity and would like the opportunity to help others, take a look at the following pros and cons of this career.

Pros of a Career as a Physical Trainer
Meaningful work that involves helping and caring for others*
Designing exercise routines provides an opportunity to think and act creatively*
Employment of fitness trainers expected to grow as fast as average from 2012 to 2022*
Climate-controlled work environments*

Cons of a Career as a Physical Trainer
Evening, weekend and holiday work might be required*
Not all clients will be enjoyable to work with*
The majority of the workday will be spent standing*
Some clients might require first-aid treatments, including CPR*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Physical or personal trainers help their clients improve their health, manage their weight and stay fit through individualized, safe and effective exercise programs. Before developing a schedule of activities for a new client, a personal trainer will evaluate the individual's current level of fitness, physical capabilities and personal health goals. Trainers design routines based upon the use of different movements for each set of muscles; these can include stretching, strength training and cardiovascular exercises. When a client begins a program, a trainer will show them how to do the exercises correctly, breathe properly and maintain exertion levels while doing a physical activity.

During a session, a trainer will observe how a client performs the exercises and provide corrective techniques for improving his or her techniques to avoid injuries. Over the long term, you will monitor a client's progress and adapt individualized programs as necessary. In creating a routine for a group, you will choose the 'soundtrack' for the class and include alternative exercises to accommodate people of different skill and fitness levels. In addition to teaching, personal trainers often provide their clients with information about lifestyle, nutrition and weight control.

Career Prospects and Salary Info

Physical or personal trainers can work at gyms, health clubs, country clubs, resorts, hospitals or recreation centers. Some are self-employed and train individual clients in their homes. This is a growing field, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment opportunities for fitness trainers to increase by 13% from 2012 to 2022, which is as fast as average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Most employers prefer to hire personal trainers who have been certified by a recognized organization.

Training Requirements

According to the BLS, most personal trainers have earned at least a high school diploma before they enter the field. A diploma or its equivalent is also necessary to take personal trainer certification exams offered by organizations that have been accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), including the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). To sit for an exam, you must be at least 18 years of age and hold a certificate in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED). Some prior experience in the field might also be required. Personal trainer certification exams are multiple-choice, timed tests that assess a candidate's knowledge of human anatomy, health and physical fitness, exercise, physiology, nutrition and weight management. Books, CDs, DVDs, workshops and seminars provided by an association can help you prepare for the exam.

In addition to being certified, the BLS reports that more and more employers are requiring trainers to have an associate's or a bachelor's degree in exercise science, kinesiology or a related field. For example, some community colleges offer an Associate of Applied Science in Strength, Nutrition and Personal Training or an Associate of Arts in Exercise Science. The curriculum for these programs can include coursework in first aid, human anatomy and development, kinesiology, nutrition and physical education. These same classes can also be found in community college programs that offer a certificate of competency or a certificate of completion in exercise science or personal training. Bachelor of Science degrees in exercise science, sports science or health and human performance can be found at 4-year colleges and universities. Students enrolled in these programs will have the opportunity to take upper-level classes in exercise, health and kinesiology. However you receive your training, potential employers will expect you to be able to:

  • Conduct fitness assessments and consultations
  • Create individualized exercise plans for clients based upon their capabilities and goals
  • Secure the safe and effective use of a facility's equipment
  • Possess the communication and customer service skills necessary for building and maintaining a client base
  • Administer emergency first-aid treatments if necessary

Real Physical Trainer Jobs From Real Employers

As the following job postings from April 2012 indicate, a personal training certification is the most basic credential you will need to obtain a position in this field.

  • A leading fitness company in Ohio is advertising for personal trainers who are at least 18 years of age and have previous program design experience. Candidates must hold a certification or a degree in a fitness-related area and be willing to attend training and professional development sessions.
  • An athletic club in Baltimore has an opportunity for a health and fitness trainer to educate their members about the benefits of personal fitness, monitor their progress and adjust programs as necessary. Candidates must hold a personal trainer certification from one of the major fitness organizations.
  • One of the oldest gym chains in the country is looking for a certified and experienced personal trainer to work at one of their California locations. Candidates with a college degree in a fitness-related major are preferred, and those without a certification from a nationally recognized organization must be willing to obtain one within 90 days of employment.

How to Compete in the Field

Sales skills and professional development are important to becoming and remaining competitive in this field. According to tips provided by the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, personal trainers need not resort to obvious and insincere sales tactics to attract new clients (www.ideafit.com). Instead, the 30-year-old organization suggests a trainer should strive to make the first consultation with a client a successful consultation by emphasizing personal service and value. IDEA advises trainers to use this critical time to establish an immediate rapport with their customers and instead of the price tag, highlight the worthiness of the services they will be providing. Other customer service tactics include offering to complete a new client's paperwork yourself. If a client balks at the price of a program, IDEA suggests having him or her share it with a training partner.

In addition to IDEA, the same organizations that certify personal trainers will continue to support them throughout their careers by providing opportunities for professional development. For example, ACE offers its members a variety of services, including access to important health updates, research and studies, an exercise library and continuing education courses necessary for recertification (www.acefitness.org). Personal fitness trainers who are interested in going solo can obtain information about starting, financing and managing their own businesses by contacting the U.S. Small Business Association (www.sba.gov).

Alternative Career Paths

Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers work to prevent, diagnose and treat muscle and bone injuries in athletes, children, members of the military and performing artists. They can be employed at doctors' offices, secondary schools, rehabilitation centers and college or professional sports teams. The BLS anticipates a much-faster-than-average increase of 30% in employment for athletic trainers from 2010 to 2020. A bachelor's degree in a relevant major is the minimum requirement for entering the field, and as of May 2011, the median annual salary for an athletic trainer was $42,000, as reported by the BLS.

Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide

Under the supervision of a physical therapist, physical therapist assistants and aides help patients manage pain and regain movement after an illness, injury or surgery. An associate's degree from a program certified by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is typically required to work as an assistant, but aides can usually get by with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. According to the BLS, physical therapists and aides will experience a dramatic increase of 46% in employment from 2010 to 2020, which is much faster than average for all occupations. In May 2011, physical therapist assistants and aides had median annual salaries of $51,000 and $24,000 respectively, as reported by the BLS.

Recreation Worker

Recreation workers plan and implement art, music, game and sports activities for specific groups of people. Some of their responsibilities include maintaining recreational equipment, keeping participants safe by enforcing safety rules and administering first-aid treatments when necessary. Although many recreation workers have a bachelor's degree, educational requirements can vary depending on the employer. The BLS expects employment opportunities for these professionals to increase as fast as the average for all occupations, and as of May 2011, the median annual salary for a recreation worker was $22,000.

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Northcentral University

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Grand Canyon University

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Regent University

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American University

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